Friday, March 10, 2023

Faye Kellerman's Stone Kiss Brings Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus as Ongoing Series Main Characters!


The girl said, “May I see your identification and badge again?” “Certainly.” “It’s Lieutenant Peter Deck—” “Son of a bitch!” That, Decker heard. He staved off a smile. The girl hung up the phone, with a slightly bemused look on her face. “He’s in the middle of a shoot. You must really rate.” “I don’t know about that.” “He’ll be with you in a few minutes.” “Thank you.” 
Decker smiled, realizing that there wasn’t as much as a stool for him to sit on. Not much space for excess furniture anyway. It was a nondescript area with cream-colored blank walls and barely enough room for the receptionist and guard. Chris probably didn’t get much company. With Donatti, a few minutes actually meant a few minutes. The interior door opened, and there he was. No longer the lanky heartthrob of a teen, Christopher Whitman Donatti, at twenty-six, now cut a big swath. He was broad across the chest, with massive arms and developed biceps. His left hand gripped a Hasselblad that looked like a toy in his fingers. He was clean shaven, his abundant blond locks shorn just a step away from a buzz cut. A lean, long face contained high cheekbones and a wide forehead, with ruddy skin that wasn’t weathered but did hold some seams. He had a strong jawline, not chiseled but more manly than boyish. Generous lips that protected straight white teeth. Noticeable large blue eyes: ice-colored with no reflective quality whatsoever. What was the opposite of luminous? 
Decker and his six-foot-four frame had always faced Chris eye-to-eye. For the first time, he sensed his line of vision moving upward. “You grew.” “I always was a late bloomer.” Donatti wore loose clothing—a black T-shirt over khaki cargo pants, the pockets bulging—probably filled with photographic paraphernalia and, no doubt, a state-of-the-art piece. His feet were housed in black suede running shoes. He was still blocking the door, staring at Decker. “I need to pat you down.” “I made it through security.” “I need to pat you down,” Donatti repeated. The child/guard was on his feet, his right hand on his hip. His face may have looked young, but his eyes reflected pure business. “Can I be of assistance, Mr. Donatti?” “Thanks, Justin, but this one’s mine.” Donatti gave the girl his camera, then turned to Decker. “The position?” Without protest, Decker faced the wall, leaning forward on his arms. It was natural for Donatti to assume that Decker was wearing a wire or carrying a gun—something for defense. As it was, Decker was putty, nothing but his brain for protection. Donatti was thorough with the frisk—front and back, up and down, inside and out. He went through Decker’s pockets, sorted through his credit cards and personal identification. 
From his wallet, the kid pulled out the one lone photograph Decker was carrying—the recent snapshot of Jacob. Donatti showed him the photo. “This is the only picture you carry?” “My son gave it to me a couple of days ago. Normally, I don’t carry any pictures of my family.” “Protective?” “A lot of people resent me.” Decker smiled. Donatti’s face was flat. He stared at the snapshot. “He’s the image of your wife.” Decker’s stomach did a little dance. He didn’t respond and tried to look unimpressed. “Am I wrong?” Donatti said. “No, not at all.” Donatti returned the picture to Decker’s wallet, placed it back into the jacket pocket. He rummaged through the rest of Decker’s jacket, fishing out the envelope that held the crime-scene photos. It gave him pause. Carefully, he scrutinized them, studying them one by one. Again he stopped when he got to the photo of Ephraim with Shaynda. Though his eyes were fixed on the faces, his expression was completely blank. Abruptly, he placed the snapshots back in the envelope and slipped the whole package back into Decker’s pocket. Then he stepped away from the door. “Okay. You can come in.” 
The loft was enormous, with vaulted ceilings, and large, dusty windows letting in filtered light. Each window had a shade on it—some were rolled up, some drawn. The floor was made from old planks of cherry wood, scuffed but still intact. Most of the studio was empty space, except for a bank of built-in cabinets underneath the windows, a weight rack, a cello case next to a backless chair, and the actual shooting area. Here was the place of action: a jumble of prop boxes, numerous hanging backdrops, several differently colored carpets, chairs, tables, and lighting accessories. There were umbrellas, tripods, reflectors, and spots—all of them positioned around the main stage. There was music in the background—something classical but atonal and avant-garde which Decker didn’t recognize. It was very low-pitched like whispered conversation. Two young boys—probably teenagers—were rearranging props and photographic equipment, pulling things in and out of boxes and bags. They were flitting around the center stage and its main occupant—a naked girl wearing spiked heels on her feet and a boa around her neck. Her blond hair was pinned, but in disarray. She wore little makeup—lipstick, a spot of blush. Big blue eyes were taking him in. Decker averted his gaze, electing to look at his shoes. All his girls are legit. She was probably eighteen, but she was made up to look around fourteen. 
Wordlessly, Donatti started fiddling with the background tripod that held an electronic flash. “Go on.” “Are you talking to me?” Decker asked. “Yes, I am.” “Do you mind if we talk in private?” “Getting distracted, Lieutenant?” “Distracted is a good word.” “Hey, you said it was important. I figured we can talk while I work.” He regarded Decker’s eyes, his face cold and expressionless. “But if you want to talk to me alone, you’ll have to wait.” “How long?” “Beats me. But you can sit if you want. You can even take a cup of coffee.” Decker’s eyes swept across the room. There was a coffeepot resting on top of one of the cabinets. He walked over, poured himself a Styrofoam cup of black coffee, and looked around for a chair. Donatti said, “Matt, get the lieutenant a box to sit on.” One of the young boys snapped to it, bringing Decker a wooden crate. Decker thanked him, then watched Donatti pose the girl while trying not to stare too hard. Donatti positioned her, head back and legs apart. Then he nudged a reflector upward with his toe. “Up… up. Like this, okay?” Matt nodded, gripping the silver surface. Donatti took a lens out of his pants pocket and switched it with the one in his camera. “Keep the damn thing up!” Again he kicked the reflector. “Like that! Jesus! Reading?” The other young boy held up an exposure meter. A flash went off and the boy gave Donatti some numbers. The two assistants appeared almost prepubescent—narrow-hipped and narrow-shouldered, without any signs of facial hair. One was of dark skin—Latino or Puerto Rican—the other was Anglo. Both had long, silken hair—perfect chicken-hawk material. Decker wondered if Chris was swinging both ways, or at the very least pimping both ways. The boys were all work and showed no interest in the young girl, who was the center of attention—licking her lips provocatively as she parted her legs, her eyes on Decker. Again Decker looked at his feet. 
“Nice place,” he said absently. “Like it? I own the building.” “Very entrepreneurial, Chris.” “I like business. It suits me.” Donatti did a slow turn and faced Decker with lightless eyes. “By the way, I called you Lieutenant. That means you call me Mr. Donatti.” “I stand corrected.” Donatti went over to the center and peered through the camera. “Matt, you got to lift up the reflector around an inch… yeah, there. Richie, you want to kick up that back light, I’m getting a nasty shadow… to the left. That’s good. Hold out the meter.” A flash went off. “Reading?” Richie gave him the numbers. 
Donatti was not happy. He played with the lights, the umbrella, and the reflectors. As his frustration increased, Donatti’s assistants seemed to grow more and more anxious, exhibiting nervous twitches. There was no attempt at camaraderie. It was Mr. Donatti this, and Mr. Donatti that. Finally, the conditions met with Chris’s approval, and Donatti started snapping, talking the girl through it as he worked. He was fast and furious, dripping with sweat under the hot lights. The model was also sweating profusely. He worked continually for about five minutes; then without warning, Donatti stopped, swore, picked up a spray bottle of ice water, and blasted it over the young girl’s chest...


The Ritual Bath was the first book I read by Faye Kellerman. I had already read books by her writer husband, Jonathan Kellerman and found I enjoyed them greatly. One reason I wanted to consider Faye's books was because of the Jewish flavor that, I knew, would be both informative as well as entertaining. I was not wrong. 

However, while I was doing book reviews professionally, I had stopped doing reviews for major authors, the Kellermans among them, because I knew they would get many reviews. And I was more interested in providing reviews for those requesting my assistance, normally those who were just beginning or were self-publishing, That proved to be an ongoing activity that has lasted for years and only stopped when my health became a factor.

When a LA Police Lieutenant gets called to New York to help, it can only be from family that would make the trip necessary... And, besides, Rina's sons were locating on the east coast so the trip could be turned into a vacation... At least that was the plan. Peter had been asked by his brother (half) because they had found his brother-in-law dead in a motel, naked. And, his niece who was close to him, had disappeared. 

If you're thinking what I first thought, it was, obviously, the one that most everybody had thought. Except, Shayndie was Chasidic and, when questioned, confirmed that she was not intimately involved with her uncle--he was somebody she could talk to as a friend. Still, the big question was whether she was there during the time that her uncle had been clearly murdered. And whether she might actually have done it!

Decker had finally agreed to come, but he had also contacted the local police and explained he was there and was being asked to help. When they realized his rank, they had no problem working with him as long as he provided anything he discovered back to them.

Strangely, though he had known he was coming, when Peter met with Shayndie's father, it was clear that he really didn't want his help. Even having Peter check out her bedroom, as would be done to attempt to discover where she might have gone, had been refused. What was going on? Had her father received a request for money for her return? Did he know something about the murder and didn't want further involvement?

One thing was for sure, however, once Peter had made the trip and had committed to help, he was not going to pull away. He started investigating on his own, by starting with seeing a very old acquaintance who happened to be, perhaps, a psychopath!

Decker had put Chris Donati into prison--but he had also helped to get him out later. He had also helped Donati's lover and child with money when nobody would help her after Donati was imprisoned. Now, Peter wondered how Donati would receive him.

Donati had gone into a safer criminal enterprise. Human trafficking was a distant part of it, but Chris ensured that his girls were 18. His endeavors included helping young girls get off the street, and taking care of them. They could leave at any time, but, after the chrismaric Chris had cared for them, few left. And when they turned 18, they were photographed by Chris, who had become an expert photographer, and made them look very young... Thus satisfying the law as well as his clientele... Decker knew that he would have a tough time in stomaching what was being done to young girls, but he also knew that if Shayndie had turned to the streets, it was likely that she had hooked up with other girls who worked the streets... And that Chris might know where she was...

Faye Kellerman, in writing this story, has been willing to share Jewish characters who are both extremely conservative religious in dress, but who also have turned to the sex trade to meet their desires. And, that that same group could become involved in criminal activities in order to become richer. Finding all of this out was difficult for Peter. In the end, his brother (half) was the only member of this extended family who were willing to continue to help work to find the missing girl.

There is an intriguing secret interaction between Chris and Peter and Chris and Rina that nobody is talking about, but which acts to move the mystery forward. Still, it is just Peter and his brother who are caught in the final search, find and ultimate climax where Peter almost loses his life... One final note, I know it is my age and background, but I found the, in my opinion excessive use of offensive language by Peter overkill. Complicated case, complex family relationships and police and Chasidic members being part of the criminal acts was just...awkward, to say the least. To bad, it reminded me too much of reality these days--not a good thing. The mystery and action was intense though and worthy of your consideration!


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